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  • Rachel Von Stroup | The Journal Gazette Jake Sauer, center, meets with Shane Starr and Beth McAvoy at One Lucky Guitar, which is developing an all-inclusive website for entrepreneurs.

  • Hart

  • Marcuccilli

  • Kelley

  • Rachel Von Stroup | The Journal Gazette Page designs for the website lay on the table during a meeting of project team members at One Lucky Guitar on Friday September 20, 2019.

  • Rachel Von Stroup | The Journal Gazette From left: Shane Starr, Jake Sauer, and Beth McAvoy talk about how branding integrates into the website during a meeting of project team members at One Lucky Guitar on Friday September 20, 2019.

  • Rachel Von Stroup | The Journal Gazette Page designs for the website lay on the table during a meeting of project team members at One Lucky Guitar on Friday September 20, 2019.

Sunday, September 22, 2019 1:00 am

Agencies joining forces for startups

Officials hope to boost entrepreneur numbers

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Entrepreneurs, by nature, see a need and commit to meeting it. That holds true even when it comes to meeting the needs of other entrepreneurs.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that the assistance offered to local startups is plentiful but disconnected from each other. But that's about to change.

Local officials late last year received a $20,000 Knight Foundation grant to form a strategic alliance between all the local organizations offering services to entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Right now, if you ask someone for help, you'll be referred to whatever organizations the person you're asking happens to know about – not necessarily the one – or two or three – best able to meet your needs.

The idea is to make them more effective individually and as a group, according to Trois Hart, director of SEED Fort Wayne. SEED stands for Summit City Entrepreneur and Enterprise District and is the office known until last year as the Urban Enterprise Association. 

Representatives from about 20 organizations attended a meeting late last month on how to proceed. They agreed to hire a facilitator and meet again to form a vision, Hart said, adding that more organizations will be included in future conversations.

Kristin Marcuccilli, STAR Financial Bank's chief operating officer, hosted the meeting. She is on the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and Indiana Chamber of Commerce's boards of directors, positions that keep her informed about statewide efforts to help entrepreneurs.

Marcuccilli referenced a Kauffman Foundation study released in February this year, the “2017 State Report on Early-Stage Entrepreneurship,” which found Indiana ranks 47th of 50 states for the number of new startups.

Startups, she said, account for a significant percentage of new job growth.

“I'm passionate about this from an economic growth standpoint,” she said. “We can agree on 47 out of 50 isn't going to get the job done.” 

Although Indiana officials support various efforts to increase entrepreneurship around the state, they're allowing regional leaders to create their own strategic plans based on community needs, Marcuccilli said. 

“It's a problem and a challenge,” she said of deciding how to spend grant money. “But, boy, it's a good problem to have.”

Find connections

One Lucky Guitar was hired to develop and promote a website that features all the local organizations and keeps a common calendar of all the meetings, classes, speakers and more.

“It will include all things entrepreneurial for the region,” Hart said, adding that the work was funded by several sources, including the state.

The site will include a social media field where curated postings from these groups will be featured, similar to a Facebook newsfeed, said Matt Kelley, One Lucky Guitar's founder.

The local advertising agency has worked with some of the entrepreneur-oriented programs previously, but this project allowed Kelley to see just how much is available.

“I was encouraged,” he said. “There are so many people doing so many different things.”

One Lucky Guitar last week celebrated the 15th anniversary of its move into leased space. Kelley worked out of his apartment the firm's first four years. He remembers how much support he needed when getting started. “People definitely want to help,” he said. “But you're still at the discretion of that person's network” of resources.

The website will connect them to organizations providing various services, Kelley said. It is meant to be a first stop for aspiring entrepreneurs reaching out for help.

'Farther together'

Some local programs have been around long enough to receive widespread attention, including the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, or NIIC, which leases office space and provides support services near Purdue University Fort Wayne.

But many others are lesser-known resources. They include:

• The Atrium, a downtown co-working space operated by Start Fort Wayne.

• The Fortitude Fund, which offers mentoring and awards $1,000 grants to early-stage ventures.

• 1 Million Cups, a weekly gathering that allows aspiring entrepreneurs to get feedback.

• Women's Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center, which offers a program that walks women through launching a business.

• CookSpring Shared Kitchen, which leases work space with commercial equipment to food-based ventures.

• Founders Spark, which hosts monthly conversations with entrepreneurs about their challenges.

The all-inclusive website, scheduled to launch Oct. 1, will go live two weeks before StartUpWeek 2019, a celebration of small business entrepreneurs with workshops, talks and awards. The website's address will be www.fuseNEI.com.

Hart hopes having all resources listed in one place will bring more attention to those that are “thinly used” because not enough people know about them.

Marcuccilli believes organization brings benefits.

“We'll get farther together,” she said, “than if we're just all running our own railroads.”

sslater@jg.net